Will Anyone Challenge Supervisors?
Friday, February 19, 2010
The race is on for two county board of supervisor seats, will anyone oppose the incumbents? We discuss why two local officials thought to be running against Supervisor Ron Roberts decided against entering the race in the last month.
ALISON ST JOHN (Host): The County Board of Supervisors is made up of five people and two of them are already in their fifth four-year terms. Two more of them are running for reelection in June, and if they win and the dynasty continues San Diego County will be run by the same group of supervisors for 20 years. There is growing criticism in the press of the board's priorities, but do the voters want a change? So, Kent, sum up for us who is on the ballot and what options do voters have in June?
KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Well, Bill Horn is, from my way of thinking, most famously on the ballot.
ST JOHN: He’s in north county.
DAVY: He’s north county, which is obviously why I care. Also, Ron Roberts on the ballot.
ST JOHN: He represents more the downtown area.
DAVY: More – Yeah.
ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.
DAVY: I think his entire district’s inside the city. But Horn has got – At this point in time, there’s at least four people who’ve thrown four, maybe five, people whohave thrown their names in the hat. The most prominent of those names, as far as I can tell, is Steve Gronke, who is a Vista City Councilman. He’s a teacher by career. And has – seems to be hanging part of his hat on his opposition to the Merriam Mountain Development…
ST JOHN: Umm.
DAVY: …project. That’s a housing development that’s proposed for Deer Springs Road and I-15 with about two hun – 2,000 homes, and there’s been a bit of background controversy with Horn and those developers there on whether he violated rules against not talking with them after the proposal had been made to the county. There’s also three other people, a contract – retired contractor from Valley Center, Tom Bumgardner, John Van Doorn from Encinitas—not the columnist that I have at my newspaper, by the way, a different John Van Doorn…
ST JOHN: Oh, I was wondering.
DAVY: …and William Haynor, who’s a financial advisor from Rancho Santa Fe. The difficulty that I see for all of these people is Horn’s got $100,000 war chest.
ST JOHN: Hmm.
DAVY: He has got name recognition. Gronke has maybe a couple thousand dollars he’s raised so far. Who knows what someone like Mr. Haynor might be willing to put into the race or not.
ST JOHN: Well, both of them, both Horn and Roberts, have war chests of about $100,000…
ST JOHN: …which right there is difficult for anyone to run against. But I wanted to ask you, you know, Horn, last time he was challenged, won by a very narrow margin…
ST JOHN: …but his challenger was very conservative also, whereas Steve Gronke is more of a moderate conservative.
ST JOHN: Do you think that his district is ready for a change in that direction?
DAVY: I think it’s going to depend, in this district, on whether or not the environmental movement and its opposition to Merriam Mountain and Guejito Ranch, which is a proposal to take the old land grant ranch, take the bottom portion of it, which was not a part of the original land grant, and turn it into a development of a hun – 10,000 homes. That’s up back of Valley Center. To the extent that there’s a coalition maybe of interest groups and money, maybe they’ll be able to put together enough of a campaign. Otherwise, it seems to me unlikely that people are going to be able to knock Horn out, notwithstanding all of the negatives that he carries.
ST JOHN: So, Ricky, I mean, in terms of your political experience, have you seen somebody being able to overturn…
RICKY YOUNG (Government Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): No.
ST JOHN: …somebody who’s got a $100,000 war chest?
YOUNG: Well, to my way of thinking, the idea of an environmental coalition somehow being persuasive in Bill Horn’s district is less likely than it would be, say, in Ron Roberts’ district if Donna Frye were to get in that race and challenge him. I think the more likely thing to speak up there would be money. And I would keep an eye on Bill Haynor. He got into the race after the latest filing deadline, so we have no idea how much money he might’ve put in. He’s from Rancho Santa Fe. When I plugged him into our, you know, library of stories from the Union-Tribune, he showed up in a Burl Stiff column, which, as you know, is the society…
ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.
YOUNG: …group. So, you know, I think he might have some money to put in and that’s what’s going to speak up there more than environmentalism. I think if that were the case then we wouldn’t have seen Merriam Mountains get approved. So I don’t know how much of a liability that turns out to be for Horn.
ST JOHN: Of course, Merriam Mountain hasn’t…
DAVY: It hasn’t been…
ST JOHN/DAVY: …approved yet.
YOUNG: Well, excuse me, approved for a rehearing.
ST JOHN: Oh, I see, right. It’s not dead yet.
YOUNG: I think you can kind of count the votes of the people who wanted the rehearing. They may want the project as well, so…
ST JOHN: Okay. Kent.
DAVY: The – I think the difficulty Haynor has is Haynor’s name is basically an unknown up there and Horn isn’t. And to the extent that you’ve got a relatively short campaign season, you’ve got a lot of work to go.
ANDREW DONOHUE (Editor, voiceofsandiego.org): This is what we hear about all the time when we’re dealing with the supervisor race, is that they can roll over money from previous elections, so they’ve been going relatively uncontested, with the exception of Horn, for election cycle after election cycle so they’re – They’ve been raising money, rolling it over. They’ve got districts that are the size of congressional districts so name ID is everything. It’s interesting because that’s always used as sort of an excuse, as well, I think, on the other side. When you had the previous caller, Lori Saldana…
ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.
DONOHUE: …drop out of the race against Ron Roberts, when you had Shelia Jackson drop out against the race (sic) – against Ron Roberts, and you have Donna Frye still trying to decide whether or not she’s going to get in. You talk to Democratic and Labor officials and they say, well, lookit, we’re up against all these sort of, you know, all these sort of entrenched problems with the – with all the money and with the size of the districts. But in Ron Roberts’ case, I mean, here’s a guy who is representing an overwhelmingly Democratic district yet he’s not having – if the race was to start today, he wouldn’t have a single Democratic competitor, and I think that speaks to the organizational capacity right now on the Democratic Party, the fact that they can’t – they’re hoping on sort of a last second hail Mary from Donna Frye.
ST JOHN: Well, what do you think about Donna Frye’s chances if she were to jump into the race? Or being able to raise enough to even compete, bearing in mind that she’s a very independent person and even Labor may not necessarily have her vote at that time.
DONOHUE: Yeah, I think she will – I think she would compete. I think there’s a little bit too much of a sentiment right now that it’s a given she’s going to get in. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see her not get in. I think she’s been through a lot of battles. I think she’s been through a lot of different things at the city and in her runs for mayor and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her retreat back not necessarily out of the public eye but back to the core issues that she’s always been interested in, maybe more from an activist standpoint, getting back into environmentalism, open government, and sort of, you know, leaving the day-in and day-out of the meetings to somebody else.
ST JOHN: And leaving all the fundraising, which is what that would…
DONOHUE: The fundraising. I mean, there’s been some, you know, some brutal campaigns, too. There’s some pretty rabid things that are said about her when she’s running for office.
ST JOHN: Kent.
DAVY: To take Andrew’s point, the SEIU has backed, and there will be a ballot measure to put term limits on the ballot, so it may be that this will be the last time that Bill Horn, Ron Roberts, get to serve a term.
ST JOHN: And how will that…
DONOHUE: Well, they – they’ll actually – wouldn’t even go into a – They still, I think, would have two more terms.
DAVY: Two more terms, yeah.
ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.
DAVY: Yeah, you’re right.
ST JOHN: But the fact that we’ve got a term limit initiative on the same ballot, do you want to talk a bit about how that could affect the turnout and how that would affect the chances for that.
DONOHUE: It’s interesting. There’s a couple different schools of thought on this. I think one is that labor could be spreading itself thin at a time when it has some winnable races if it was able to get behind a candidate against Horn, if it was able to actually field the candidate against Roberts, that at the same time they’d be trying to fight those battles and the term limits and then Horn’s trying to get an anti-labor union initiative on the ballot as well, so they could be spread very thin. But the other school of thinking is that this is actually going to mobilize, you know, union and other sort of supporters to get out to the ballot in races that perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise spurred a whole lot of turnout.
ST JOHN: Now the thing is, this is a discussion that I think people in the media are very much engaged in. They realize this is perhaps the most significant election on the ballot in June. And yet there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of, you know, turbulence among voters. Do you think—and let me just put the call out here, if anybody out there would like to join our conversation, the number here is 1-888-895-5727. You know, we’ve had some critical articles in the media about how the county is running its office but do you think the voters really even know what the county supervisors do? Or care? Kent.
DAVY: No. No, I think that’s exactly right, is the county supes, they run the library system, they run the sheriff’s department, they worry about the back country and whether there’s going to be development about there, but they don’t run the cities.
DONOHUE: They have about one…
DAVY: And most of the population’s in the cities.
DONOHUE: …one high profile decision a year.
ST JOHN: But at the same time, they are affecting the lives of thousands of county residents, the indigent and the poor and the unhealthy, right, with the social service programs…
ST JOHN: …the health programs, people who, in many cases, don’t vote, of course.
DONOHUE: I think that’s an interesting point because where are those issues going to be most important are going to be in Ron Roberts’ district. Those are going to be the people who are getting those services. First of all, they’re going to be Democratic voters that are just going to be more ideologically aligned with the providing of those services, so that’s – I think that’s another interesting dynamic and the fact that right now Ron Roberts has nobody running against him.
ST JOHN: So – Ricky.
YOUNG: The truth is, what puts a government in the news is dissention. You know, if you have a conflict between the mayor and the council or among the council members, and this has been a very, very unified board, staying on message and working together for more than a decade. And so that tends to keep them out of the news and out of the public’s cognizance of what’s going on. So it is fairly low profile despite the import of what they do. It’s also interesting to watch the dynamic. There’s sort of a drumbeat in the media by, you know, manifested this week in CityBeat, you know, Dave Rolland, who’s a regular here, yearning for Donna Frye to get in the race. Some of that may well be ideological but some of it may just be the media being bored and wanting a real race.
ST JOHN: It’s interesting that Facebook, you know, crops up yet again in this show as being a significant player, that have you ever seen a situation whereby Facebook has played a role like this where there’s like hundreds of people getting on that Facebook, calling on Donna Frye to run. Run, Donna, run, they’re – the Facebook is…
YOUNG: Yeah, I don’t understand the focus on the Facebook page and maybe it’s because I’ve, you know, I’ve kind of been doing the social media thing and the numbers on it don’t seem that, you know, impressive to me but there’s people like watching it and saying, oh, it’s at 500 people now. It’s like – You know, I don’t know how persuasive that really is.
DONOHUE: Well, and these things – I mean, these things have been happening for decades. It’s just – I mean, it migrates to different spots. You had people trying to get Dick Murphy to run again in 2003 after he had dropped out of the race for mayor, and there was, you know, run, Dick, run. There was press conferences and campaigns and websites and stuff. So it’s just shifting to different mediums now.
ST JOHN: But here’s a situation where we’ve got, you know, a status quo of five people who are just staying in power for it’ll be 20 years for four of them if, you know, the two incumbents this election keep their seats. Is there any evidence that power is corrupting in this case? Or are they just doing a good job of running the county? I mean, Rob Roberts is saying, lookit, I’m going to be comparing the government of the county…
YOUNG: Well, the…
ST JOHN: …with the government of the city if Frye runs.
YOUNG: I wish we had kept Lori Saldana on the phone for this conversation because when she was deciding not to run for supervisor, she did make a point of saying I still want to see a change on there. You know, there are certainly people who suspect that power has bred corruption at least with some members of that board, so…
DONOHUE: Yeah, I mean, let’s be frank here, they’ve just – they just don’t get a whole lot of attention and I think for one of the reasons that Kent said, you know, a lot of the decisions aren’t getting that much attention but, you know, they have essentially the same or a worse pension problem than the City of San Diego. The City of San Diego just happened to have a pension whistleblower on the board to, you know, release all the documents and to draw the attention. The county supervisors approved a very similar deal in 2002. It didn’t have quite the contingent sort of tradeoffs that the city’s did that it resulted in the criminal charges and that kind of stuff, which is obviously another reason why it’s getting more attention but…
ST JOHN: They have the benefits but what didn’t happen was they didn’t underfund their plan like the city did.
DONOHUE: Well, it’s – it is not well-funded.
ST JOHN: With the market going down, everybody’s underfunded.
DONOHUE: And also…
YOUNG: They borrowed money to fund their plan.
DONOHUE: Yeah, but they also gave a retroactive pension increase of about 50% to people so that immediately created an underfunding. So it’s not just the market.
ST JOHN: Last week we got a call from somebody who said, you know, if we vote against our supervisor, in this case it was Jacob, you know, how would we get somebody who would represent our interests as well? So even although there’s a sense that as a totality the board has been in position, the same people, too long and it’s at risk of, you know, getting complacent, do you think that people in north county, for example, with Bill Horn feel like he’s not representing their interests?
DAVY: Well, I think it depends on who you talk to. If you talk to anybody that lives on Deer Springs Road or the, say, the people that run the Golden Door Spa or its owners, who happen to be a hedge fund, they’re going to say no, Bill Horn is – Bill Horn, as I assume Andrew was alluding to, is in the pocket of the developers and ought to be thrown out on his ear. On the other hand, you know, you take a conservative Republican like Bruce Thompson runs against Horn four years ago, can’t, you know, he does a reasonably good effort and it’s close or closer but he’s not over the top.
DONOHUE: And that’s the thing, is Dianne – you know, somebody like Dianne Jacob, she represents her district. I mean, she’s out there. She seems to have a very good sense of what people want. I think the interesting thing to watch is the changing demographics are in places like the City of San Diego in Ron Roberts’ district, in Greg Cox’s district, which includes part of the city and the South Bay. Those, I think, are the places to watch, is – are attitudes shifting, are demographics shifting in those areas to the point where the politics of those politicians don’t represent the people? So far they have, and I think the interesting thing to watch is now and four years and in eight years, does that continue to be the case.
ST JOHN: Well, it’s certainly a lot of pressure on Donna Frye to jump in. I know she’s having sleepless nights, she tells me, so we’ll see how that one shapes up, and we’ll be moving on in just a minute to talking about another county issue, the district attorney, Bonnie Dumanis. Stay with us. We’re coming back here on the Editors Roundtable right after this break.